PPE & Workwear industry struggles to meet demand

by | Nov 23, 2020

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the PPE industry in both a positive and challenging way, according to Paramount Safety Products R&D Manager, Brad Rodgers. The positives come from a huge increase in COVID-related lines such as disposable masks, coveralls and hand sanitisers, while the challenge has been keeping supply of key products to satisfy demand. 

This includes raw material from a number of these lines, such as polypropylene, which saw a radical upswing in global pricing due to a shortage of availability. Meeting the demand and pricing expectations has been challenging and will continue to be as the global pandemic creates uncertainty, Mr Rodgers said.

“When it comes to increasing demand and matching this with supply, Paramount Safety have a rigorous quality control assurance program to ensure that any new factory item we bring online, is accredited to the relevant Australian/New Zealand Standards, or in extreme cases CE (European) and NOISH (United States) and that the quality is up to standard,” Mr Rodgers said.

“We have spent three decades relentlessly pursuing safer products across an evolving range of industries and applications. We see this time as an opportunity, so we have actually increased investment in product research and development, including local manufacturing options to mitigate any future disruptions to supply.”

One of Paramount’s most innovative products to be released onto the market recently include its half mask respirator now available in a resealable storage box.

“Development of new products is extremely important to Paramount and we are committed to implementing a busy pipeline of product launches throughout the pandemic. We want to ensure our customers are confident we are continually striving to bring them the very best products, for value they can buy,” he said.

Paramount Safety Products’ point of difference in the market comes from its seven specialised brands, which were either developed from scratch internally, or via strategic acquisitions. 

“We are also Australian owned and operated since 1992. Our distributors are located Australia-wide and are serviced by our network of distribution centres,” Mr Rodgers said.

When it comes to innovation, Mr Rodgers believes ‘fit for purpose’ products are a key part of Paramount’s development ethos. 

“With new materials and technologies coming out frequently, these are also evolving into better products that are more comfortable and risk specific. Gloves, as an example, have improved significantly over the past few years with new fibres/yarns creating fabrics that are then knitted into glove liners that provide a higher level of protection and reduced hand fatigue. Our Pro Choice Safety Gear ARAX range of cut-resistant gloves is testament to such product advancements. It is one of our strongest product lines and a proven performer in the marketplace, but we have pumped even more features into it to reflect innovative new technology,” he said.

Just some of Paramount’s most innovative products released in the past few months include its half mask respirator now available in a resealable storage box desired to keep filters intact, biodegradable Nitrile disposable gloves and new chin guard visors or STRIKER face protection system featuring the latest innovations in impact protection and versatility.

When looking at current trends, Mr Rodgers believes technology will always play a role in which products will remain popular, while constant development in materials will also play a part. 

“Safety is quite a mature market in terms of products, but it is the small refinements that provide huge benefits to users in terms of protection, comfort and sustainability,” he said.

An area that will continue to trend in the growth area will be smart technology/IoT wearables within PPE, according to Mr Rodgers who said this will continue to develop as safety and technology continue to innovate and experiment in ways we can only begin to imagine, all with the one purpose of keeping people safe. 

“This space is still relatively juvenile, however, we all know technology moves at pace and if you are not at the front, you are easily left behind. Paramount Safety’s research and product development team is constantly on the lookout for technology that we know will bring value to our customers,” he said.

When looking at some of the primary issues currently facing the PPE market, Mr Rogers pointed out that the challenge of product supply will continue as the global demand for PPE remains high.

“This provides upward pressure on pricing and availability. This will also continue well into 2021 which means companies are going to need to plan ahead with their work to ensure they have the required PPE to protect employees when they need it. The hangover from COVID could likely spell a different world when it comes to products and work processes due to the need for social distancing, sanitising of self and surfaces and elevated PPE use. That in itself will be the catalyst for issues facing the market, but will also instigate a whole new set of opportunities to innovate around the issues to continue on business,” he said.

Australian and New Zealand product standards, related to PPE products, are some of the most stringent in the world and where applicable, Paramount Safety not only meets but exceeds these product standards, he said.

“Most imported products do meet these Australian Standards. But in my view, it is not good enough to just ‘meet’ these standards. Paramount invests heavily into independent third-party certification using reputable companies like BSI Benchmark and SAI Global to verify that the products we import into Australia do, in fact, meet the standard, each and every time they are made. You can tell just by looking for these logos with the corresponding licence number under scoring the standard number,” he said.

Portwest caters to COVID market

When the global pandemic was declared, Portwest was another company which immediately brought new COVID centric products to the market within a matter of days, with just some of the new products to be introduced including the CV22 2 ply re-usable anti-microbial face mask, CV33 3 ply re-usable anti-microbial face mask, hard hat face shields and hygiene marshal vests.

Portwest continues offers a one stop shop for all protective clothing, footwear and PPE along with in-house embroidery.

“Portwest continues to stand out from its competitors because it offers a one stop shop for all protective clothing, footwear and PPE along with in-house embroidery, according to Portwest Regional Sales Manager Australia – New Zealand, Paul Giles. 

“We are in our 116th year, we operate four fully owned factories and have 35 in-house designers and product managers that develop, design and produce our products to meet the needs of our customers, all through our Portwest, Prime Mover and Huski brands,” Mr Giles said.

“We also have a new catalogue being launched in December which will include our KX3 range, which has just been launched onto the Australian market. The new range is a superior line of trend-led apparel combining quality construction to the highest standards and technical fabrics. Key characteristics within this collection include abrasion resistance, moisture management and stretch characteristics for sustained agility and effortless movement. All KX3 garments have been designed to fully complement each other to allow a personal layering system to be built,” he said.

While Mr Giles said he does not believe there are inconsistencies in standards across the industry, he does believe standards can be easily misunderstood by manufacturers.

“In the Hi Vis clothing space, we often see garments displaying the AS/NZS4602.1 standard which clearly does not comply because it either does not have not enough Hi Vis material, or incorrect colours are utilised, like pink or tape configurations are incorrectly applied. There are also brands of Hi Vis clothing being offered in the typical Hi Vis orange and yellow that are sold as Hi Vis but are not tested to meet the AS/NZS 4602.1 standard,” he said.

“While there is no issue for retailers selling these styles, many consumers are unaware they are buying a garment that would not pass muster on a worksite where Safety clothing is required. There are a lot of boxes to tick for a shirt or jacket to pass the AS/NZ 4602.1 standard ensuring workers are seen, being a bright colour alone isn’t enough,” he said.

While trends include customers looking for more contemporary trends and styling in the work wear space, there is now a big move to slim fit, stretch and ripstop fabrics available in more colours, made with advanced construction techniques, Mr Giles said. 

“We have also introduced many new fabrics into our range along with finishes that repel oil and stains, improve water resistance and drying and wicking depending on the style and fabric. We have also introduced a new zip fastening technology called EZEE Zip, which is much easier to close that a traditional zipper, it much easier for someone wearing gloves and great for left of right handers,” he said.

Blundstone’s new products – innovation and comfort

With Blundstone commemorating its 150th year in 2020, it has also gone on to release a limited-edition elastic sided safety boot to mark this milestone anniversary. The #9150 offers all the safety and comfort features of its XFoot Rubber range, with some special 150th touches not found on any other safety boots – such as the rich water-resistant oxblood leather upper with an embossed ‘150’ heel.

Blundstone’s #9150 offers all the safety and comfort features of its XFoot Rubber range, including the rich water-resistant oxblood leather upper with an embossed ‘150’ heel.

“As always, the fundamental criteria for providing the best workwear or PPE are safety, functionality, and comfort. These are the benchmarks Blundstone use when creating and designing footwear but there is an increasing awareness of, and greater demand for on-trend aesthetics from wearers, especially in regard to colour options. Safety footwear not only needs to be safe and comfortable, it has to look good too,” a company spokesperson said.

When a Blundstone boot is created, the number one priority is the wearer and how the boots will impact his/her experiences, according to the spokesperson. 

“This thoughtfulness in design, the focus on research and innovation, and the expectation of a long, durable lifecycle for Blundstone products are outstanding qualities not found in all safety footwear suppliers,” the spokesperson said.

“Given that our market is based on essential industries, we have been more fortunate than some as we have seen the market remain buoyant throughout 2020. Significant changes in workforce numbers in construction and mining during the next few years will impact the safety footwear market but it remains to be seen what direction this change will take, or whether numbers will remain steady,” he said.

While there are inconsistencies in the market, we are lucky in Australia that the market is highly regulated and all suppliers need to comply to standard AS 2210.3:2019. 

“This does not mean that all safety footwear is manufactured to the same exacting quality. Leather quality can vary enormously and will have a direct impact of the comfort, suitability, durability and life length of the boots. This also applies to all other componentry within the boot structure including the soling materials, bonding agents, zips, laces and linings,” the spokesperson concluded.

Bata Industrials launches recycle program  

After proudly manufacturing footwear in Australia for over 50 years, Bata Australia now produces over 400,000 pairs of PVC Gumboots annually at its Mornington production facility in Victoria. 

While Bata prides itself on making high quality products, this high level of production now consumes 900 tonnes of PVC compound each year. To combat this, the company is now looking into more sustainable production methods while improving its products and its business. To achieve its environmental goals, Bata recently introduced its new PVC Recycle Program by introducing recycled PVC content into its production processes. This is not only good for the planet but also helps Bata deliver a much more competitive product within the industry, Bata Industrials National Sales Manager, Michael Hatfield said recently.

Bata Industries recently launched its new PVC Recycle Program, in an effort to make its products more sustainable.

“Our goal is to have zero worn PVC gumboots being disposed of into landfill. We are now actively working with our stakeholders to facilitate the return and reprocessing of worn PVC gumboots, with the used product returned to our raw materials suppliers for reprocessing and then supplied back to us as a new compound for production. Our aim is to re-process this waste into the raw materials to create new Bata Industrial PVC Boots,” Mr Hatfield said.

With an objective to have zero used and/or worn PVC gumboots being disposed into landfill and to help our customers responsibly dispose of their used boots, Bata has already implemented easy to use recycle disposal bins nationwide, in collaboration with its current distributors.

“At the moment being Australian Made and being sustainable is a big focus for everybody. Customers really want to support us on this and do the right thing by disposing of the gumboots in a responsible way,” Mr Hatfield said.

“While the program is already underway, we have not rolled it out like we wanted to because of the COVID shut down. We are hoping to roll the initiative out it in both retail and B2B, so all end users – like abattoirs and food processing plants – can implement a recycle bin, put all their boots in and we can reprocess the PVC material and use for production of new boots.”

“We will launch the program at the start of 2021. So far, the program has only been marketed by speaking to a few key customers because the official launch was post-poned due to lockdowns,” he said.

 Being Australian made is also a huge advantage according to Mr Hatfield, particularly with Australia experiencing so many peaks and troughs in demand due to the weather.

“This means if we had a significantly wet month, we can really ramp up quickly and produce up to 3000 pairs a day if need be. Imported product lead time is three or four months. So just being able to respond quickly by being Australian Made and having a product that fits well and everyone knows is a big advantage for us,” he said.

Looking ahead Bata Industrials has several new products ready for release in February 2021, with more product details to be disclosed at a later date, Mr Hatfield said.